April 11, 2021

Did Falcon 9 Rocket Debris Streak Across Pacific Northwest Sky?

On the night of March 25, 2021, videos and photographs revealing a weird light streaking throughout the Pacific Northwest sky started flowing on social media:

Twitter user Erik Rasmussen shared a video of the scene:

As these pictures were spread on social media, many individuals hypothesized about what might have perhaps caused this strange sight. A meteor? A missile? A UFO?

Cornelius Or. pic.twitter.com/QrLfbnUGCB
— Erik Rasmussen (@Rasmusse007) March 26, 2021

According to the Seattle branch of the National Weather Service, the streak of light seen in the above-displayed media was triggered by particles from the launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket:

Davenport: “We got a truly good show tonight thanks to SpaceX. This was the top end, what we call the second phase, of a Falcon 9 rocket.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ekJanB4cjUk.

Astronomer Jonathan McDowell added that the debris in this video was probably about 40 miles above Earth, which is more than 30 miles higher than a lot of airplane routes. McDowell also noted that while astronomers have understood that this debris would be returning to earth for a while now, it was hard to forecast precisely when and where it would happen:.

SpaceX, a business established by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, has actually been using its Falcon 9 rocket to introduce Starlink satellites into orbit. While SpaceX has yet to comment on these photos, multiple astronomers have reached the conclusion that particles from the Falcon 9 caused this odd light show..

Some enjoyable realities about area debris reentries:-LRB- 1) A breakup like the one over Seattle occurs at about 60 km (~ 40 miles) up, far above where airplanes fly (more like 10 km).( 2) satellites (consisting of area scrap like this rocket stage) orbit the Earth at over 7.5 km/s (17000 miles per hour).3) We might anticipate this rocket phase would reenter today. As of yesterday the TIME at which it would reenter was still uncertain by 5 hours.4) But remember its going 17000 miles per hour, so a 5 hour time uncertainty suggests an 85,000 mile (53000 km) place unpredictability. Thats more than one entire loop around the Earth. Thats why we could not tell ahead of time that it would be the Seattle area that would see the reentry.Why cant we forecast it better? Partly since the headwind that is triggering it to spiral in, the Earths upper environment, has weather– even numerous miles up. Solar activity impacts its density.

As these pictures were spread on social media, lots of individuals speculated about what could have perhaps caused this unusual sight. Davenport: “We got a really good show tonight thanks to SpaceX. Some fun truths about area particles reentries:-LRB- 1) A breakup like the one over Seattle happens at about 60 km (~ 40 miles) up, far above where planes fly (more like 10 km).( 2) satellites (consisting of area junk like this rocket stage) orbit the Earth at over 7.5 km/s (17000 miles per hour).3) We might forecast this rocket phase would reenter today. As of yesterday the TIME at which it would reenter was still uncertain by 5 hours.4) But remember its going 17000 miles per hour, so a 5 hour time uncertainty indicates an 85,000 mile (53000 km) area uncertainty.

James Davenport, a research assistant teacher for the Department of Astronomy at the University of Washington, informed NBC-affiliate KING 5 that these pictures show the “top end,” or second stage, of the Falcon 9 rocket that stopped working to complete its de-orbit burn.